The world of ecochair

Behind the scenes at ecochair.ch. Our adventures, our successes and sometimes a few little disasters.  Plus lots of great ideas and tips for living a more sustainable life, through second-hand furniture and beyond.

I am a farmer

Posted by Kathleen Bottriell on

People often ask me about the process of starting a business in Switzerland, which seems intimidating for many. But the hard part, I can tell you, comes after the start. After the adrenaline rush of seeing the website online, and getting the freshly printed business cards, after the first sale.

Yes, those are important hurdles. But then comes the hard part - building the business. Then hard questions come. Where to spend the money that is coming in? More inventory? More marketing? More storage? How much to outsource, and how much to do in-house? What is an acceptable level of revenue at the stage? Should I take a salary, or put the money back into the business?

Outsourcing seems like a great strategy for scaling the business - with us, the obvious place is the transportation. But actually, doing the deliveries in house with our 'sweat equity' can free up valuable cash flow for other things. It's a balance of course, because if I spend 5 hours trying to code the website to change the text colour, and someone who knows what they are doing could do in five minutes, which option is actually more expensive? What other activities are foregone in those 5 hours? As an entrepreneur, you realise that your time and hard cash are interchangeable currencies.

I'm the sole cash investor in the business - and I'm not a gambler, but I find myself making bets all the time - bets whether my time investment will pay off, whether my cash investment in extra inventory will give me a return. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, and I never know which one it's going to be. In a way, the entire endeavour is one big bet - I've done my analysis, I believe in the idea, I've put my cash on the table. But it's a long game.

I've spent some of my career working on ways to support small farmers in developing countries. They make these kinds of decisions every day - do they invest in costly inputs like fertilizers and high-quality seeds? Do they engage in labour-intensive pruning and weeding? Do they take loans, and pay them back with future harvests? The trade-offs are not always certain, especially when we factor in increasingly extreme weather events and associated crop failures, linked to climate change; something we hope ecochair can help mitigate in a small way.

I too am a small farmer, and I am tending the business like a smallholder plot.

The seeds are planted.  Will they grow?

Read more

I am a farmer

Posted by Kathleen Bottriell on

People often ask me about the process of starting a business in Switzerland, which seems intimidating for many. But the hard part, I can tell you, comes after the start. After the adrenaline rush of seeing the website online, and getting the freshly printed business cards, after the first sale.

Yes, those are important hurdles. But then comes the hard part - building the business. Then hard questions come. Where to spend the money that is coming in? More inventory? More marketing? More storage? How much to outsource, and how much to do in-house? What is an acceptable level of revenue at the stage? Should I take a salary, or put the money back into the business?

Outsourcing seems like a great strategy for scaling the business - with us, the obvious place is the transportation. But actually, doing the deliveries in house with our 'sweat equity' can free up valuable cash flow for other things. It's a balance of course, because if I spend 5 hours trying to code the website to change the text colour, and someone who knows what they are doing could do in five minutes, which option is actually more expensive? What other activities are foregone in those 5 hours? As an entrepreneur, you realise that your time and hard cash are interchangeable currencies.

I'm the sole cash investor in the business - and I'm not a gambler, but I find myself making bets all the time - bets whether my time investment will pay off, whether my cash investment in extra inventory will give me a return. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, and I never know which one it's going to be. In a way, the entire endeavour is one big bet - I've done my analysis, I believe in the idea, I've put my cash on the table. But it's a long game.

I've spent some of my career working on ways to support small farmers in developing countries. They make these kinds of decisions every day - do they invest in costly inputs like fertilizers and high-quality seeds? Do they engage in labour-intensive pruning and weeding? Do they take loans, and pay them back with future harvests? The trade-offs are not always certain, especially when we factor in increasingly extreme weather events and associated crop failures, linked to climate change; something we hope ecochair can help mitigate in a small way.

I too am a small farmer, and I am tending the business like a smallholder plot.

The seeds are planted.  Will they grow?

Read more


A (furniture) love story

Posted by Kathleen Bottriell on

Hello cupids,

 So, St-Valentine's day is on Wednesday. What do you think? Is love in the air, or is it just a marketing opportunity for chocolate and flower companies?*

In any case, it's got me thinking about how much the stories of our lives are connected to our furniture.

A young student couple in their twenties moves in together in a tiny apartment, and they buy a cozy couch, their first big purchase together. A newly married couple buy a home, and they decide to invest in a real 'grown-up' dining table.

Sometimes things don't turn out how we imagined, and we find ourselves alone; maybe on a new sofa bed, just until life rights itself again.  Newly 'blended' or 'patchwork' families bring together two households - which wardrobe to keep, which one to sell? Or buy something together, to start anew?

And inevitably, we grow old. Perhaps it's selling furniture as part of downsizing - the kids are grown-up, the house it too big. In the end, like all before us, we pass away. Whomever is left behind is tasked with sorting through the things, the empty armchair, the table suddenly far to big for one person. Before, only functional furniture; now, links to our precious memories.  Well-made Swiss furniture will probably even outlive us, (if it doesn't get carted off to the entsorgung depot first).

As for my furniture love story, this is the fourth country I've lived in, and I've lost track of the number of times I've moved; roughly 20 times before Switzerland and twice here.  Moving here was my love story, after meeting my Swiss husband on holiday in Ecuador. I only have two furniture pieces from 'before', one Chinese wood box, and a beautiful antique Chippendale feather-filled couch. These things now sit in our living room, part of my past life, which mingle with the things that my husband and I have bought together. Who knows what the next chapter of our lives will hold, but I'll bet new furniture at some stage!

And what about you? What are your furniture love stories?...

Wishing you chocolate and flowers every day,

Kate and the ecochair team

 *And perhaps secondhand furniture businesses? :)

 

 

Read more

A (furniture) love story

Posted by Kathleen Bottriell on

Hello cupids,

 So, St-Valentine's day is on Wednesday. What do you think? Is love in the air, or is it just a marketing opportunity for chocolate and flower companies?*

In any case, it's got me thinking about how much the stories of our lives are connected to our furniture.

A young student couple in their twenties moves in together in a tiny apartment, and they buy a cozy couch, their first big purchase together. A newly married couple buy a home, and they decide to invest in a real 'grown-up' dining table.

Sometimes things don't turn out how we imagined, and we find ourselves alone; maybe on a new sofa bed, just until life rights itself again.  Newly 'blended' or 'patchwork' families bring together two households - which wardrobe to keep, which one to sell? Or buy something together, to start anew?

And inevitably, we grow old. Perhaps it's selling furniture as part of downsizing - the kids are grown-up, the house it too big. In the end, like all before us, we pass away. Whomever is left behind is tasked with sorting through the things, the empty armchair, the table suddenly far to big for one person. Before, only functional furniture; now, links to our precious memories.  Well-made Swiss furniture will probably even outlive us, (if it doesn't get carted off to the entsorgung depot first).

As for my furniture love story, this is the fourth country I've lived in, and I've lost track of the number of times I've moved; roughly 20 times before Switzerland and twice here.  Moving here was my love story, after meeting my Swiss husband on holiday in Ecuador. I only have two furniture pieces from 'before', one Chinese wood box, and a beautiful antique Chippendale feather-filled couch. These things now sit in our living room, part of my past life, which mingle with the things that my husband and I have bought together. Who knows what the next chapter of our lives will hold, but I'll bet new furniture at some stage!

And what about you? What are your furniture love stories?...

Wishing you chocolate and flowers every day,

Kate and the ecochair team

 *And perhaps secondhand furniture businesses? :)

 

 

Read more


Reflecting on the new year - tips and ideas

Posted by Kathleen Bottriell on

It’s that time of year again – reflecting on the past year, thinking about what this year will bring. And perhaps a little regret over stuffing our faces during the holidays, if the number of people in the gym is any indication.   What are your plans for the year? Maybe you make annual resolutions, or maybe it’s more of a case of reflecting about the past year, and thinking about the future.  

Judging by the number of people coming by the shop, it seems a lot of people have ‘new’ furniture on their to-do list, or rather nice pre-loved things, in our case.

I’m a big fan of picking a few handywork projects for the year.  My project list is pretty long at the moment, so I’ve decided to sell this stunning vintage wingback chair (instead of putting it on my list). It could use some sanding and oil, which is straightforward and a good project to start with, if you're not an expert.  

Experts say that setting goals on days that are personally meaningful to you may have more chance of success than generic days such as New Year’s, like your birthday for example.   

Borrowing from business, a famous paper from the 1980s introduced the idea of S.M.A.R.T goals; that is: specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-bound. Fifteen years ago, I started an annual new year’s resolutions notebook loosely based on these principles, and I can really say that it does work, especially the part about being realistic – don’t feel pressured to set the bar too high. My tip is also make some fun resolutions, like trying a new type of cheese, or taking a woodworking course, and physically tick them off when you do them.

We've got some big plans for ecochair this year, including bringing in more people in to help (so if you're interested in being involved, get in touch), creating an interactive map of local second-hand businesses, a new storage space coming in April, and testing out some new ideas for helping you sell your stuff with us.

The tag-line we use for ecochair, ‘good for you, good for the planet’ is something I try to live by both in our business and personally. Do something meaningful with your work, with your life, but don’t forget to also look after yourself. On the flip side, have fun, but also consider your impact on the planet and how you can make simple changes in your day to day life, for the greater good.

With that, I wish you Frohes Neues, and all the best for 2018.

Read more

Reflecting on the new year - tips and ideas

Posted by Kathleen Bottriell on

It’s that time of year again – reflecting on the past year, thinking about what this year will bring. And perhaps a little regret over stuffing our faces during the holidays, if the number of people in the gym is any indication.   What are your plans for the year? Maybe you make annual resolutions, or maybe it’s more of a case of reflecting about the past year, and thinking about the future.  

Judging by the number of people coming by the shop, it seems a lot of people have ‘new’ furniture on their to-do list, or rather nice pre-loved things, in our case.

I’m a big fan of picking a few handywork projects for the year.  My project list is pretty long at the moment, so I’ve decided to sell this stunning vintage wingback chair (instead of putting it on my list). It could use some sanding and oil, which is straightforward and a good project to start with, if you're not an expert.  

Experts say that setting goals on days that are personally meaningful to you may have more chance of success than generic days such as New Year’s, like your birthday for example.   

Borrowing from business, a famous paper from the 1980s introduced the idea of S.M.A.R.T goals; that is: specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-bound. Fifteen years ago, I started an annual new year’s resolutions notebook loosely based on these principles, and I can really say that it does work, especially the part about being realistic – don’t feel pressured to set the bar too high. My tip is also make some fun resolutions, like trying a new type of cheese, or taking a woodworking course, and physically tick them off when you do them.

We've got some big plans for ecochair this year, including bringing in more people in to help (so if you're interested in being involved, get in touch), creating an interactive map of local second-hand businesses, a new storage space coming in April, and testing out some new ideas for helping you sell your stuff with us.

The tag-line we use for ecochair, ‘good for you, good for the planet’ is something I try to live by both in our business and personally. Do something meaningful with your work, with your life, but don’t forget to also look after yourself. On the flip side, have fun, but also consider your impact on the planet and how you can make simple changes in your day to day life, for the greater good.

With that, I wish you Frohes Neues, and all the best for 2018.

Read more


How much is my furniture worth?

Posted by Kathleen Bottriell on

Or, how long is a piece of string. The better question is, how much can you sell it for. Here are a few of our expert tips:

It's high quality, I promise you. (Do your research)

Sure, I believe you, even though we've never met and you've told me nothing about what makes it 'high quality'. [read with a sarcastic tone]

The first step in establishing the quality of a piece is to find out what brand it is, and whether it is a designer.

> If it's a chair, flip it over and see whether there are any tags or stamps underneath.

> If it's a sofa or upholstered armchair, open any zippers and see if there are tags inside. Alternatively, turn it upside down, again checking for stamps, labels or tags.

> If you have good reason to believe that it's a well-known designer, google it (see below). Even without tags, if you can show evidence that it is identical to a known design piece, you may be able to command a premium price. However, beware of copies which can look very similar - pay attention to the details.

Even if you can't find information about the brand or designer, look at the piece and think about what makes it high quality. Is it solid wood? Does it have a label that says what country it is made in? Do they know what store it came from? You need to give people a reason to believe that it's high quality.

Just google it.

Search engines are a great way of benchmarking against the current market price. Type in the brand and model of your furniture and hit enter.

If you know the brand, but not the model, try mixing the brand with descriptive terms, such as 'Pfister couch sofa grey'. Normally you'll get a hit.

If you don't know what brand or model it is, you might still get lucky by trying descriptive terms, such as 'mid-century teak chair Danish'. Even if you don't, this will still help you get an idea of the price range.

Finally, if there is even an outside chance that it might come from a flat-pack store, check their website and/or google the store name + descriptive terms. It is really embarrassing when someone tells you that cool designer chair you are selling cost new half of what you are trying to sell it for. Normally these items are well-labelled, so as said above, examine the item closely for labels.

Clean it.

Seems obvious, right? Surprisingly, this is something that is often overlooked. Do you really think that someone will want to buy your sofa covered in dog hair? Your dusty armchair? Your sticky dining room table? A vacuum cleaner, warm water and gentle soap (and some elbow grease) will work wonders.

If you are selling wood items, consider using a product such as Moebel-Neu which very easily erases surface scratches and water marks. This can make a huge difference.

Be honest with yourself.

Why are you selling your furniture? If it's because it's worn or damaged, chances are that you're not the only one who won't want it. It doesn't matter how much you paid for it, or how 'high quality' it is, very few people want damaged furniture, no matter what budget they are on (designer furniture is an exception to this, since sometimes dealers will buy inexpensive designer furniture and restore it).

If you are expecting that someone might want to buy your worn sofa and have it re-upholstered, bear in mind that this can cost CHF 3,000+ so it better be a pretty amazing sofa for someone to want to invest that much in it.

We recommend selling any 'project' items that will require significant time / investment at a token price, or even offering it as free.

Don't be stubborn, but do be patient.

It doesn't matter how much it cost you, people almost never pay more than half of the original purchase price (except if it's a famous design piece or an appraised antique, but that's a different story). More common is 25%, and even less for flatpack.

We recommend trying the Splitwise Furniture Calcultor for a quick reality check.

You can always adjust the price down if you need - depending on how urgently you need to sell it. You might get lucky and sell it within a few weeks, but some things can take 3 - 6 months or even longer so make sure you build in some time, if you are moving out soon.

Read more

How much is my furniture worth?

Posted by Kathleen Bottriell on

Or, how long is a piece of string. The better question is, how much can you sell it for. Here are a few of our expert tips:

It's high quality, I promise you. (Do your research)

Sure, I believe you, even though we've never met and you've told me nothing about what makes it 'high quality'. [read with a sarcastic tone]

The first step in establishing the quality of a piece is to find out what brand it is, and whether it is a designer.

> If it's a chair, flip it over and see whether there are any tags or stamps underneath.

> If it's a sofa or upholstered armchair, open any zippers and see if there are tags inside. Alternatively, turn it upside down, again checking for stamps, labels or tags.

> If you have good reason to believe that it's a well-known designer, google it (see below). Even without tags, if you can show evidence that it is identical to a known design piece, you may be able to command a premium price. However, beware of copies which can look very similar - pay attention to the details.

Even if you can't find information about the brand or designer, look at the piece and think about what makes it high quality. Is it solid wood? Does it have a label that says what country it is made in? Do they know what store it came from? You need to give people a reason to believe that it's high quality.

Just google it.

Search engines are a great way of benchmarking against the current market price. Type in the brand and model of your furniture and hit enter.

If you know the brand, but not the model, try mixing the brand with descriptive terms, such as 'Pfister couch sofa grey'. Normally you'll get a hit.

If you don't know what brand or model it is, you might still get lucky by trying descriptive terms, such as 'mid-century teak chair Danish'. Even if you don't, this will still help you get an idea of the price range.

Finally, if there is even an outside chance that it might come from a flat-pack store, check their website and/or google the store name + descriptive terms. It is really embarrassing when someone tells you that cool designer chair you are selling cost new half of what you are trying to sell it for. Normally these items are well-labelled, so as said above, examine the item closely for labels.

Clean it.

Seems obvious, right? Surprisingly, this is something that is often overlooked. Do you really think that someone will want to buy your sofa covered in dog hair? Your dusty armchair? Your sticky dining room table? A vacuum cleaner, warm water and gentle soap (and some elbow grease) will work wonders.

If you are selling wood items, consider using a product such as Moebel-Neu which very easily erases surface scratches and water marks. This can make a huge difference.

Be honest with yourself.

Why are you selling your furniture? If it's because it's worn or damaged, chances are that you're not the only one who won't want it. It doesn't matter how much you paid for it, or how 'high quality' it is, very few people want damaged furniture, no matter what budget they are on (designer furniture is an exception to this, since sometimes dealers will buy inexpensive designer furniture and restore it).

If you are expecting that someone might want to buy your worn sofa and have it re-upholstered, bear in mind that this can cost CHF 3,000+ so it better be a pretty amazing sofa for someone to want to invest that much in it.

We recommend selling any 'project' items that will require significant time / investment at a token price, or even offering it as free.

Don't be stubborn, but do be patient.

It doesn't matter how much it cost you, people almost never pay more than half of the original purchase price (except if it's a famous design piece or an appraised antique, but that's a different story). More common is 25%, and even less for flatpack.

We recommend trying the Splitwise Furniture Calcultor for a quick reality check.

You can always adjust the price down if you need - depending on how urgently you need to sell it. You might get lucky and sell it within a few weeks, but some things can take 3 - 6 months or even longer so make sure you build in some time, if you are moving out soon.

Read more


The 'Swissness' starts to creep in

Posted by Kathleen Bottriell on

I've read lots of books about Swissness, as part of my 'integration'. I learned very early on that I would never be Swiss, even if I get a Swiss passport and eventually speak perfect Swiss-German. However, this doesn't stop me from trying. Of course, the stereotypes don't always hold true, but most people I know have an elderly neighbour that likes to spy on them, and inform them when they have broken some sacred, often unwritten rule.  My friend's neighbour even took photos of her putting the recycling out at the 'wrong' time.

This morning I had a funny occurrence that made me think perhaps I have graduated from my first phase of the 'newly arrived'.  I was riding the tram to the shop, and there were a pair of accordion players singing Christmas tunes and asking for coins in the tram. It was a rather horrible version of jingle bells, off-key and heavily accented, but actually the first thought that came to mind was, are they allowed to do that? Surely this is forbidden! (not the off-key singing, but rather playing music on the tram).

I'm not the only one who is having moments of Swissness - I was strolling through the Christmas market with a friend, who arrived in Basel around the same time as me, and she stopped to look at some bookmarks. It was a package of 8, marked for 7 CHF.  She politely asked whether the price was per bookmark, or the whole package. Luckily the price was for the whole package, but I found it quite funny that she would even ask the question - clearly, she has learned from experience that some things are truly extraordinarily priced. I still cringe when I think about the fancy pillows I wanted to buy at Globus when I first arrived. They had a couple of tags on them, and I assumed the one for CHF 25 was correct. You can imagine my embarrassment when the cashier rang up a bill of hundreds of francs; it turned out that the CHF 25 was for the inner pillow, and the pillowcases were priced at several hundred francs each. Needless to say, I fled.

In North America, we have a phrase 'sticker shock', which the Merriam-Webster dictionary describes as 'astonishment and dismay experienced on being informed of a product's unexpectedly high price'. This happens frequently to new arrivals in Switzerland (and can last for many years - I know people who have been here over 10 years who still struggle to gauge what is reasonable).

I often think about this for the pricing of items in the shop.  Our aim is to sell furniture at prices that seem reasonable to people that have just arrived, otherwise folks will just go to the flat-pack stores and buy something new. Often, this means that people who have been here awhile, or are from here, ask why the prices are so low. I suppose that is where the difference between a traditional business and a social enterprise comes out - we aim to reduce the amount of new furniture purchased, so we measure our success in terms of avoided impact, rather than profit. We're selling things at a price that incentivise purchase and generates enough to operate the business. As I always say, good for you, good for the planet!

With best wishes

Kate

Browse shop > SaveSave

 

 

Read more

The 'Swissness' starts to creep in

Posted by Kathleen Bottriell on

I've read lots of books about Swissness, as part of my 'integration'. I learned very early on that I would never be Swiss, even if I get a Swiss passport and eventually speak perfect Swiss-German. However, this doesn't stop me from trying. Of course, the stereotypes don't always hold true, but most people I know have an elderly neighbour that likes to spy on them, and inform them when they have broken some sacred, often unwritten rule.  My friend's neighbour even took photos of her putting the recycling out at the 'wrong' time.

This morning I had a funny occurrence that made me think perhaps I have graduated from my first phase of the 'newly arrived'.  I was riding the tram to the shop, and there were a pair of accordion players singing Christmas tunes and asking for coins in the tram. It was a rather horrible version of jingle bells, off-key and heavily accented, but actually the first thought that came to mind was, are they allowed to do that? Surely this is forbidden! (not the off-key singing, but rather playing music on the tram).

I'm not the only one who is having moments of Swissness - I was strolling through the Christmas market with a friend, who arrived in Basel around the same time as me, and she stopped to look at some bookmarks. It was a package of 8, marked for 7 CHF.  She politely asked whether the price was per bookmark, or the whole package. Luckily the price was for the whole package, but I found it quite funny that she would even ask the question - clearly, she has learned from experience that some things are truly extraordinarily priced. I still cringe when I think about the fancy pillows I wanted to buy at Globus when I first arrived. They had a couple of tags on them, and I assumed the one for CHF 25 was correct. You can imagine my embarrassment when the cashier rang up a bill of hundreds of francs; it turned out that the CHF 25 was for the inner pillow, and the pillowcases were priced at several hundred francs each. Needless to say, I fled.

In North America, we have a phrase 'sticker shock', which the Merriam-Webster dictionary describes as 'astonishment and dismay experienced on being informed of a product's unexpectedly high price'. This happens frequently to new arrivals in Switzerland (and can last for many years - I know people who have been here over 10 years who still struggle to gauge what is reasonable).

I often think about this for the pricing of items in the shop.  Our aim is to sell furniture at prices that seem reasonable to people that have just arrived, otherwise folks will just go to the flat-pack stores and buy something new. Often, this means that people who have been here awhile, or are from here, ask why the prices are so low. I suppose that is where the difference between a traditional business and a social enterprise comes out - we aim to reduce the amount of new furniture purchased, so we measure our success in terms of avoided impact, rather than profit. We're selling things at a price that incentivise purchase and generates enough to operate the business. As I always say, good for you, good for the planet!

With best wishes

Kate

Browse shop > SaveSave

 

 

Read more